Lessons from Surah Al-Mu’minun (Verses 48-50)

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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Bismi-llāhi r-raḥmāni r-raḥīm

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

اللهم صلي على سيدنا محمد وعلى اله وصحبه وسلم

Allahumma salli ala Sayyidina Muhammad wa ala alihi wa sahbihi wasallim

O Allah, send your peace and blessings upon our Master Muhammad and upon his family and companions

This article is a summary of takeaways from Ustaz Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram’s Tafsir Online Lecture on 18th October 2020. Summaries of previous lectures on Surah Maryam, Surah Taha, Surah Al-Anbiya’ and Surah Al-Hajj can be found here. The previous lecture of Surah Al-Mu’minun can be found here.

Recap of Previous Verses

In the previous lecture, we learnt about Prophet Musa AS when he and his brother, Prophet Harun AS, confronted Firaun. Firaun and his chiefs, had responded arrogantly saying that they were not going to believe in two mere human beings, especially not Prophet Musa whose people were slaves. We elaborated that the word ‘abiduun referred to Bani Israel, who were not only physically servants, but also psychologically enslaved into regarding Firaun as their God.

Firaun and His Chiefs Were Destroyed

فَكَذَّبُوهُمَا فَكَانُوا۟ مِنَ ٱلْمُهْلَكِينَ

Thus they rejected both of them and were among the destroyed. [23:48]

Firaun and his chiefs rejected Prophet Musa and Harun AS. In Surah Al-Mu’minun, Allah SWT uses very brief sentences. There was no elaboration regarding the battle between the sorcerers and prophet Musa, or about the life of Bani Israel in the desert. All of that can be found in Surah Al-Baqarah. Here, a quick summary is given, and Allah SWT informs us that Firaun and his chiefs were destroyed.

We know that Firaun and his troops were drowned, when they attempted to traverse the split sea, while chasing after Prophet Musa AS and Bani Israel. It all happened so quickly that none of them could escape.

In other verses, Allah SWT mentioned that the body of Firaun was preserved as a reminder and reflection for generations to come. We do not know if the Firaun that was preserved is the one that was drowned during the chase with Prophet Musa AS. There are many stories, narrations, and opinions on this topic.

Some scholars say that the preserved Pharaohs were the other Pharaohs of Egypt – not the one that drowned. They claim that the one that drowned had been swallowed by the sea. The other Pharaohs also portrayed arrogance and stubbornness in declaring themselves as gods.

“Firaun” is not the name of a single individual, rather, it is a title that is given to whosoever is the leader of Egypt at any point of time. As such, they believe that the Pharaoh that was preserved was not the one that drowned.

Some other scholars say that after having drifted for long in the sea, the body of Firaun was brought afloat and recovered by the Egyptians before being mummified and preserved until today. Some claim it was Ramses I or Ramses II.

These are just mere theories; the truth cannot be verified and only Allah Knows. What we do know is that Firaun and his chiefs were destroyed because of their haughtiness and stubborn refusal to accept the truth.

Revealed as Guidance for a People

وَلَقَدْ ءَاتَيْنَا مُوسَى ٱلْكِتَـٰبَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَهْتَدُونَ

And indeed We gave Musa the Scripture, that they may be guided. [23:49]

The scripture referred to here in this verse is the Taurat that was sent to Prophet Musa AS. Who were the people referred to here – the ones who were to received guidance? The first opinion says that this refers to Firaun and his people.

The second opinion refutes that saying that Verse 48 had already referred to the destruction of Firaun and his chiefs; so that chapter has finished. Only after that did Allah SWT send down his Scripture.

Tafsir scholars say that this verse in fact refers to Bani Israel, the people who were rescued from the grasps of slavery and safely transported to the other side of the sea.

This is the opinion we will choose. It was only after Firaun was defeated, was Prophet Musa AS called upon by Allah SWT to the Mountain of Tur in order to receive the scripture from Allah SWT.

We know that the defeat of Firaun was not the end of the story of Prophet Musa AS and Bani Israel. Even though the story of Prophet Musa AS ends here in Surah Al-Mu’minun, we know from other surahs how the problems of Prophet Musa AS only got worse after Bani Israel was rescued from slavery.

Recap of the Story of Musa AS

We have heard about the stories in the life of Prophet Musa AS. It began when Prophet Musa AS was about to be born. A fortune teller had foretold to Firaun that there will come a man in Egypt from amongst the people of Bani Israel who will rise to overthrow and defeat Firaun.

It was then that Firaun declared that every baby boy who was born amongst Bani Israel was to be killed. Even as a newborn, Prophet Musa AS’ life was threatened to be killed by the soldiers of Firaun.

By Allah’s Wisdom, the most feared of people to Firaun, Prophet Musa AS, was brought up in his own palace as his adopted son. Prophet Musa was raised in abundance and comfort. As he AS reached his youth, he became a strong man.

There was an incident where he punched a man, killing him by accident. Prophet Musa AS fled until he reached a distant land where he worked for years and got married.

After years of service, he returned to Egypt where he received the revelation to confront Firaun and call to Allah SWT. In Egypt, Prophet Musa AS, accompanied by Prophet Harun AS confronted Firaun.

There was a battle arranged between the sorcerers of the land and Prophet Musa AS. Prophet Musa AS defeated them all and the sorcerers embraced Islam. Firaun then made the decision that Prophet Musa AS and his people should be wiped out so that his power would not be threatened.

Firaun and his troops chased after Bani Israel to the point of the sea. The sea was split, and Prophet Musa led Bani Israel safely across, leaving Firaun and his troops drowned in the sea. We have heard of all of this before.

The Stubborn People of Bani Israel

The trial of Firaun was completed. However, there were more trials to come – specifically in dealing with Bani Israel. These were the descendants of Prophet Yaqub AS, the son of Prophet Ishaq AS and grandson of Prophet Ibrahim AS.

These were a people descended from a line of prophets, and yet their attitude and behaviour were unbelievable. It was Prophet Musa AS that rescued them from slavery. It was Prophet Musa AS who showed them the signs of Allah, having the sea split into two in front of their very eyes.

They even walked across the split sea and experienced it for themselves. After having been rescued from peril and oppression, they found themselves in freedom, safety, and security.

Yet, under the leadership of Prophet Musa AS, they behaved in a ridiculous manner. They questioned this and that, requested for this and that, and acted stubbornly in the face of continued guidance from the messengers.

We heard previously in Surah Taha of the story of Samiriy and the Golden calf, as well as the incident with Manna and Salwa. Allah SWT saved them after each incident and preserved them all the way as they travelled to Palestine, their place of origin. These were the difficulties and trials that Prophet Musa AS had undertaken.

Reminders for Us

These stories were not presented in Surah Al-Mu’minun. However, they serve as a lesson for us. When Allah SWT has protected us from a certain harm, it does not necessarily mean that we are saved forever.

Rather, safety and protection, barakah, and the showering of Mercy and goodness upon us, comes only from Allah SWT and is brought about as a result of our character, how strong our Iman is and how much Taqwa we have. It depends on how willing and ready we are to obey Allah SWT.

At the moment when we begin to make mistakes in being stubborn, going overboard and being disobedient, if Allah were to immediately respond with punishment upon us… Remember that I mentioned before that if there are punishments that Allah SWT brings forth to us while we are still here in this world, before we enter the hereafter,

it is a sign of Allah SWT’s love for us. Allah SWT wants to give us a quick reminder so that we do not continue to live life in sins, and only realise what we have been doing in the Hereafter. We do not want to wait until we reach the hereafter to get the worst possible punishment.

At times, Allah SWT sends a sliver of his punishment upon us as a reminder because we have once been stubborn before. If we ever find ourselves in a difficult situation and a solution is found to lead us out of it, then do not become proud thinking that Allah SWT has saved you forever.

When a human being forgets and repeats the same mistake after a few days, Allah SWT will reciprocate his deeds with a punishment. If Allah SWT chooses to give us a worldly punishment, it is a sign that He SWT still loves us.

Imagine, if we commit the same mistake a second time and Allah SWT decides to leave us drifting, drowning in the currents of neglect and misguidance. Imagine if this punishment was given to us because we have this mindset that we are “chosen by Allah”, that because of the past trials that we have overcome, we are somehow of a high status, and saved from punishment.

Bani Israel is shown to us as a reminder of this. Overcoming a single trial does not immediately make you honourable. Allah SWT gave them trial after trial after every incident of insolence and stubbornness towards Prophet Musa AS. Let this be a lesson for us.

Hidden Slavery of the Heart and Mind

This verse also shows us that human beings, even if we are physically owned and ruled by people, it is nothing compared to having your soul being enslaved by people. Getting freedom from physical slavery can be done by Allah SWT’s will.

Prophet Musa AS freed hundreds of thousands of slaves by himself – at the very least with the help of his brother. The pair of prophets coordinated the exodus of the hundreds of thousands of people of Bani Israel out of Egypt, while being chased after by Firaun and his troops.

Firaun’s troops were not just feared by the citizens and slaves in Egypt, they were also feared by the authorities of neighbouring countries. By Allah SWT’s power, the freedom of the people was achieved easily. The problem is releasing one’s self from the slavery of the heart.

As mentioned in the last session, Bani Israel had enslaved their hearts to Firaun, in that they psychologically considered Firaun to be as powerful as God. They believed that they would be destroyed for disobeying him.

In front of his troops they feared him, but even in the absence of the army, they remained afraid of him. This was in spite of them being from the lineage of believers and prophets.

There is clear slavery and hidden slavery. At times, we encounter people who have enslaved minds. They are unable to think for themselves because they have been raised to follow the word of people.

My brothers and sisters, sometimes the way we raise and educate our children, as parents and teachers, is such that we train our students to not have a mind of their own. Alhamdulillah, today we have less of this.

In the 50s and 60s, we saw how students were forbidden to ask questions. Students would be labelled as “rude” or “insolent” the moment they dared to question their teachers. This generation then grew up with the idea that they were incapable of thinking. Sometimes they become people who are gullible and easily swindled. The enslavement of the mind is something that is really difficult to be freed from.

Some people have enslaved spirits. They find that they have no dreams, hopes and aspirations of their own. These people merely follow the directions of those they deem to be of authority or better knowledge.

Islam has never taught us such a thing. Rasulullah SAW, for example, could have given him guidance by raising him since he was young in a comfortable upbringing. Allah SWT could have sent Jibrail with the revelation directly to Prophet Muhammad at his home.

Instead, Allah SWT arranged for it that Rasulullah SAW had to undergo a process of thinking, pondering, and seeking for answers. It was only when he had been in confusion, isolating himself in the cave of Hira’ that revelation came to him SAW.

Allah SWT showed us that to achieve anything in life, we need to ask questions, seek answers, think and reflect, rather than just passively accepting whatever that happens.

The Contributions of Singaporean Scholars

We need to be grateful, Alhamdulillah. We in Singapore are granted with the presence of religious scholars who bring us gems that spark us to move from one state to another.

For some of our scholars, we only appreciate their contributions once they are no longer with us. One example is our teacher, the teacher of Singaporean Muslims, Almarhum Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, the author of Tafsir ‘Abr al-Athir.

There was a moment when the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) was tasked to establish the distribution of Zakat in Singapore. In the Qur’an, it is stated that Zakat should be divided across eight categories. One of which is “ArRiqab” meaning slaves – this portion was to be used to free slaves.

During that period of time, there were no longer any slaves. The scholars could have easily declared that we will just distribute the Zakat amongst the seven remaining categories. Instead, the scholars looked at the significance, purpose and intention behind this eighth category.

Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji brought up to the Fatwa committee that although we no longer have slavery here, there is a category of people who are enslaved by ignorance. If these people are not freed, this problem will continue to threaten the community.

If people are not equipped with the knowledge and skills to think and develop to their mental capacity, they will become like slaves in a society which does not accept the ignorant.

This proposal was accepted until today; the category “Ar-Riqab” in Singapore is dedicated to freeing the Singapore Muslim community from being enslaved by ignorance. This was Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji’s contribution to the Singapore community.

I would like to just give a side note to say that not all of the Asnaf of Zakat are given an equal portion. Some categories require more money as there are more recipients in them.

For example, those who are poor and destitute require the most contribution. The Ar-Riqab portion is used today to provide bursaries, scholarships, sponsorships, building up the Madrasahs etc. – anything that has to do with the spread of knowledge for the local Muslim community.

Alhamdulillah, this has helped to ensure that we are not left out such that we are unable to meet the society’s needs. We do not want to become a community that is backward and left behind as society progresses. We do not want to become a second-class community because of our inability to catch-up.

Today, Alhamdulillah a portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars collected in Zakat is channelled yearly into an institution that has for over 50 years been carrying out its role to kindle the development of knowledge in our youth, this is what we call Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud (LBKM). This is an idea that I belief was an idea that came from Allah SWT that has much benefitted us.

We are still at the moment in the month of Rabiul Awal. You know my dear brothers and sisters, there was a time when the Muslim community in Singapore was not allowed to celebrate the Maulid like how it had been celebrated over the years. There were to be no more Maulid processions taking place in Singapore.

However, our community leaders were not the type to stay resigned and complain, getting upset with the rules and circumstances that happen. They did not harp on what was lost and keep bringing it up so that the future generations would inherit the unhappiness over the years. Our leaders instead put their heads together to think up ways to still celebrate the joyous event of the birth of the Prophet SAW.

Based on the verses of the Qur’an, we believe that Rasulullah SAW was sent as a Mercy to all the Worlds. So even though the Maulid processions were stopped, we thought up ways to sustain the spread of Mercy to present and future generations.

This was where Almarhum Syed Ali Redha Alsagoff came up with the idea of founding LBKM in the spirit of Mercy. Every year, LBKM raises funds and does projects to raise and distribute hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid for students of all levels.

Today, we see that in our present generations the greatest shackles are that of ignorance. In this blessed month, I recommend to you all to make a contribution to LBKM. May Allah SWT bless our figures of the past, may their contributions be accepted by Allah as good deeds, and their status be raised by Allah SWT.

Take Heed from Bani Israel

We do not want to be like Bani Israel who were physically freed but let themselves remain weak because they left their minds and spirits enslaved. Prophet Musa AS struggled to free them from the shackles holding them back psychologically.

Take heed from the story of Bani Israel, who moved from trial to trial in stubbornness, despite having been punished by Allah SWT repeatedly. After many years, they finally arrived at their homeland in Palestine. Until a point of time when it came the time for Prophet Musa AS to pass on.

Bani Israel was given prophet after prophet in generations to come. There were many ups and downs in the history of Bani Israel in Palestine. There were moments where they were colonised.

They did not develop and create their own civilisation over the generations. They just inherited that which they got from the prophets. At some point of time, the Pagan Romans conquered Palestine.

The people of Bani Israel tried their best to hold onto the teachings of Prophet Musa AS based on the Taurat. However, because of political and social factors amongst others, they defended their religion but refused to expand it. They claimed that they were the chosen people of God.

It went to the extent that they declared the people who held onto the teachings of Taurat are the children of God. They think that they are the most honoured of people, no one else deserved the status of honour that was conferred upon them. They did not see religion as something to be spread and shared to others. To them, this was something reserved for them alone.

This is human nature, whenever a group finds themselves weak, pressurised, and oppressed by others, they will find a means to convince themselves that things are still ok. This is despite their land being colonised by coloniser after coloniser, their people constantly being ruled by outsiders, their society not thriving or expanding. In order to convince themselves that they are doing well, they attempted to raise their own status by claiming to be the chosen Children of God.

Prophet Isa was Sent to Bani Israel

وَجَعَلْنَا ٱبْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَأُمَّهُۥٓ ءَايَةًۭ وَءَاوَيْنَـٰهُمَآ إِلَىٰ رَبْوَةٍۢ ذَاتِ قَرَارٍۢ وَمَعِينٍۢ

And We made the son of Maryam and his mother as a sign, And We gave them refuge on high ground, a flat place, with a food source and a water source. [23:50]

At this point of time, Allah SWT send a messenger to the Bani Israel from amongst them. This Messenger was tasked to free them from this mindset that the religion is to be used to free them from external powers.

From amongst Bani Israel, a very special baby boy was born under unbelievable circumstances, from a mother who had never been touched. This was Prophet Isa AS, sent to build up the true faith, to bring the people towards true conviction, to free them from external powers. Instead of accepting this new prophet, Bani Israel rejected him AS.

Prophet Isa AS and his mother were made as clear evidence of the truth of Allah SWT, as a phenomenon that exists in front of their very eyes so that they had no reason to deny the truth.

We know of the story where Sayidatina Maryam AS found herself pregnant. She was mocked and criticised by her people. She isolated herself from her community so that she may deliver her son in a good place. She went to a high land that was stable and flat so that she was comfortable.

She had access to a date-palm that she shook in order to get dates to nourish her. There was also a spring to quench her thirst. In Surah Al-Mu’minun, this was all not mentioned.

In this Surah, there was only a brief mention of Prophet Isa AS. Allah shows us through this story that the people of Bani Israel, even after the advent of such an honourable and special Prophet AS, did not become an honoured people. Why was this?

Bani Israel refused to accept Prophet Isa AS. They rejected, criticised and refused him AS. It got to the point when they even attempted to murder him. Prophet Isa AS’ story is not long, because it came to a point when he was lifted by Allah SWT to another world.

Bani Israel continued to struggle after that. There was even a time when they were ousted from Baitul Maqdis and they spread throughout the world to find refuge.

Disclaimer

I am discussing this with reference to the Bani Israel described in the Qur’an throughout the lives of Prophet Musa and Isa AS. We are not making any comments on the Bani Israel of today. Because human beings are still human beings.

Regardless of their religion or race, there will always be some good people and some bad people. The same applies for Muslims. We believe that Islam is the one true religion, however even amongst us there are good and there are bad. We do not make comments and criticisms of any community that exists today. We discuss based on past history.

Conditions for being an Honoured People

We know that Allah SWT honours us as the Ummah of Rasulullah SAW. There is however a pre-condition and that is that this honour can be lost easily and be turned to disdain if we refuse to have faith, if we do not want to hold onto good principles, if we continue letting ourselves drift in our desires, being swept away into evil deeds by whispers.

I end this session with the following ayat:

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ

You (O Ummah of Muhammad SAW) are the best community ever raised for humanity—you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah… [3:110]

If we are not busying ourselves in goodness, we will lose that honour. We should not be amongst the people who busy ourselves doing bad deeds, be it through the actions of our hands, the gaze of our eyes, the speech on our tongues, the poor character that we portray. If we are not distancing ourselves from evil, then we lose that honour. We need to stay faithful to Allah SWT, for that honour to stay with us.

May Allah SWT sustain the honour that He has given us. May He SWT raise our status in His Eyes. May He make fertile the good qualities in our hearts. May He give us the strength to continue doing good.

May He instil shame in our hearts that will distance us from committing evil and sins that displease Him SWT. May our hearts continue to be lit up by Iman throughout out lives until we return to Allah SWT and reunite with Him in Paradise someday insyaa Allah. Ameen.

Allah is my witness that I truly love all of you and I treasure you as souls who have been chosen by Allah SWT to have this friendship for His sake. May Allah SWT grant us barakah in our relationship and sustain it. Ameen.

——————–

Summary by: Arina Adom

Arina Adom is a lover of learning who takes on the world with an open mind. Resourceful and adaptable, always ready to take on new challenges. Comfortable working with diverse groups of people, yet able to work independently. Thrives under pressure. Currently seeking a meaningful career that enables her to impact lives directly and bring about positive changes in the lives of others in the community.

Arina graduated with a degree in Science ( Hons ), Life Science from NUS. She is currently taking a diploma in Quran and Sunnah Studies from Al Zuhri.

Arina Adom – Linkedin Profile


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